Knowing where you stand in your friendship group is vital for your health, scientists claim.
And it is particularly crucial if you are the top of the social hierarchy.
Monkeys observed by a team at UC Davis had higher levels of inflammation if they felt unsure about whether they were a leader or a follower in their group.
Meanwhile, monkeys who were content in their social roles were stress-free, with lower levels of inflammation and low risk of life-threatening diseases.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, low-ranking monkeys with the potential to move up the social ladder did not have the same poor health effects. In fact, since they had nothing to lose, this particular kind of uncertainty made them healthier.
What is YOUR rank in the friendship group? Uncertainty about where you stand socially could lead to higher levels of inflammation, according to a new study by UC Davis
The researchers conceded that the social life of a monkey is very different to that of an Instagram-using, text-messaging human in 2016.
However, they insist the monkey model could one day help doctors learn more about the way social hierarchy affects human wellbeing.
‘Low social status is generally thought to lead to poorer health, yet so many exceptions undermine this apparent association that it is difficult to draw a direct relationship between status and health,’ Vandeleest said.
‘In most studies, social status is typically represented by a simple rank order, a hierarchy where someone is ‘top dog’ and others rank in successively lower positions, with higher ranks getting the best and most of everything.
‘Yet social status is more complex than just simple rank. Another, perhaps more important aspect of status is certainty of social status.’
Vandeleest, Beisner and collaborators lead by Professor Brenda McCowan, School of Veterinary Medicine, measured the level of certainty or uncertainty of the monkeys’ social status in captive rhesus monkey groups at the California National Primate Research Center.
They did this by observing how the monkeys interacted with each other.
In cases where the monkeys were not interacting directly with other monkeys, their relationships were inferred through mutual social connections.
The team used these indirect connections to decipher the social rank of the animals and how well they fit in the hierarchy.
McCowan’s work focuses on using computational systems science to examine the complex relationships between social life and health.
The researchers discovered that high ranking monkeys with low certainty of their social status showed higher markers of inflammation.
Interestingly, low ranking monkeys with the potential to be more dominant had higher markers of inflammation.
Monkeys that are uncertain in their low rank might have opportunities for upward mobility in the hierarchy, which may be associated with better health outcomes.
Vandeleest said the results of the study show that status uncertainty alone may be a risk factor for acute diseases.
The results also indicate that uncertainty in status over longer periods in relationship to rank are related to chronic disease states as well.